Unions rally to support Bucyrus GE employees

Larry Limpf

Organizers of rallies supporting workers in Bucyrus, Ohio facing the loss of their jobs manufacturing residential light bulbs said they were pleased by the turnout of other union workers at the rallies held Feb. 6 at Walmart stores.
The affected employees at the Bucyrus plant are represented by IUE-CWA Local 84704. The residential LED light bulb line at the plant faces a shut down and having production transferred elsewhere.
Erika White, president of CWA 4319 and vice president of the Greater Northwest Ohio AFL-CIO, said the demonstrations at Walmart stores were planned to show support for the Bucyrus local.
“When any union member is threatened, every union member should step forward,” White said. “That’s the standard we hold ourselves to here in Toledo, and the action Saturday was for the workers in Bucyrus. They’re our brothers and sisters.”
The LED bulbs are primarily sold at Walmart stores and the retailer “has the power to tell GE-Savant Lighting to keep this product line in Ohio,” White said.
Savant Systems, Inc. announced last July it had completed the acquisition of GE Lighting from GE, with the newly-formed company to be known as GE Lighting, a Savant company. The purchase included the Bucyrus plant, a plant in Logan, Ohio, and the Nela Industrial Park in East Cleveland.
The new company headquarters remain at Nela Park and a licensing agreement remains in effect with the company using the GE brand on its products.
Ben Sabol, a spokesman for GE Lighting, a Savant company, said Bucyrus employees were notified Feb. 5 of the company’s plans to cease production of the LED line at the plant on March 6.
About 81 employees, about one-third of the total workforce at the plant, will be losing their jobs.
Sabol said the company initially invested about $8 million into the production line – an investment that created about 80 jobs.
“We’ve continued to invest heavily more millions to try to figure out how to crack the code, how to bring the cost of production down to a level that retailers can tolerate. Right now the light bulbs we’re producing are such a high cost the retailers can’t pass the cost on to consumers. Consumers are looking for inexpensive bulbs. The cost of LED bulbs has been going down every year,” he said.
The company has also brought in experts in lean manufacturing, including retired GE engineers, to find more efficiencies but to no avail.
“We’ve reached a point to where it is no longer economically viable to continue the line,” Sabol said.
The City of Bucyrus and union offered to help fund a consultant from Michigan State University but his area of expertise wasn’t suited for the situation at the plant, he said.
Sabol declined to comment on whether the company would be transferring the production to China or elsewhere and if Walmart is the only retailer selling the bulbs made in Bucyrus.
“I totally understand what the union is trying to do but it doesn’t change the economics of the situation and they are not in our favor. This action isn’t a reflection on the hard work and dedication of our Bucyrus employees. We’re very proud of the work that has been done in Bucyrus,” he said.
Rallies were held at Walmart stores in 20 states, including 14 stores in Ohio. In the Toledo area, members of local unions of fire fighters, plumbers and pipefitters, auto workers, maritime officers, public employees and others participated, White said.
An email message left with the corporate office of Walmart for comment wasn’t returned.


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